State house maintenance reduces hospital visits
New carpet, a heat pump, security lights and shiny new tapware have turned Jennifer Makatea's cold state house into a safe haven.
The 23-year-old mother of two had to put shoes on her children's feet to keep them warm on the bare floors in Hamilton's harsh winters, but those days are gone after Housing New Zealand spent $12,000 to upgrade her home.
"I'm really grateful," Makatea said.
Waikato's Housing New Zealand houses had $11.5 million spent on them in the past year and Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett said that was an increase of $2.9m since 2012.
Upgrades at Makatea's house have seen trips to hospital for her two-year old son, Ralph Lucas Opetaia, who suffers respiratory problems, all but disappear.
Her three-year old daughter, Hayzil Opetaia, has asthma.
"He was in hospital because of bronchitis and when they did the carpet and heat pump, it just made a big change for both of my kids," Makatea said.
Housing NZ homes in Waikato have received a range of upgrades to make them healthier, including the installation of extractor fans, rangehoods and bathroom wet-walls.
At Makatea's small three-bedroom home in Fairfield, built in the 1960s, a leak in the ceiling has been fixed, the roofing tile repaired, a new external door installed and the fireplace blocked to prevent draughts.
"There were wooden floors. It was cold, there was no security light and the doors were glass, so a lot of condensation was coming in," she said.
The fireplace worked and warmed the house, but only when the fire was lit.
Thermal curtains were fitted just before Makatea moved in and the house was insulated, but it was still cold.
"There was a lot of breeze coming down the fireplace and it was really, really cold."
That's all changed, particularly with the heat pump.
"It's really good, but we've had it on for the fan lately."
Housing NZ has about 3500 properties in Hamilton and Waikato and the extra $2.9m spent in the past year meant more upgrades to state-owned rentals than in previous years, Bennett said. That's an average of not quite $3300 each, so Makatea has done better than many.
"We know when vulnerable people have appropriate, well-maintained housing, it's easier for them to get and retain a job or training, keep their kids healthy, and less likely to be dependent on the state long-term."
On average, social housing tenants each pay about $100 per week on rent. Government subsidies to top that up exceeds $700 million each year.
Bennett was in Hamilton last Thursday to meet Housing NZ staff. During the visit, she said tenant well-being is the top priority for the board and management.
The additional spending ensured vulnerable Housing NZ tenants are healthy and safe, she said.
But Labour's Hamilton List MP, Sue Moroney, wasn't convinced everyone was getting the help they need.
She gets regular complaints of Housing NZ houses with no heating, unfinished work and tenants missing out on the basics.
"People have had half of a job done on their maintenance and the rest of it not finished," Moroney said.
"I've had frequent complaints they can't get Housing New Zealand to fix damage and do general maintenance."